“Neighborhood Watch” is as disturbing and scary a tale of suburbia gone mad as anything I have ever seen. The first feature film for former video director Graeme Whifler, the bare bones of the plot are of a young couple, Bob and Wendi Peterson (Jack Huston, nephew of Angelica, grandson of John, great-grandson of Walter, and Pell James), who have just moved into a “company house” owned by Bob’s new employer, The Zeecor Corporation. The cul-de-sac they live on has the sinister moniker of “Wormwood Drive” (that alone would make me think twice) and half of the houses have no lawns, just dirt, or are fenced up like Fort Knox. There they gradually meet some rather odd neighbors including the Sowells, Judd and Mary (Terry Becker and Anina Lincoln), who are apparently deaf but want to warn the Petersons about something, and Adrian Trumbull (Nick Searcy), the all-too-cheery sort who brings the Petersons a welcoming bouquet and a box of chocolates. Unfortunately for Bob and Wendi, Adrian’s ideas about neighborly hospitality include spiking the bouquet, which Wendi keeps burying her face in, with poison oak and adding “horse laxative” to the chocolates the Petersons consume. And director Whifler doesn’t shy away from showing the physical effects any of these little “pranks” have upon the Petersons. Adrian also has a penchant for self-mutilation of a most horrific nature which, again, the director presents in all its gruesomeness.
When Adrian returns with a third gift, some “grape jelly” he has mixed with what looked like a fetal pig (this film is NOT for the squeamish) and Bob and Wendi politely but firmly refuse his offer, still suffering from the chocolates, Adrian…well, he doesn’t take their rebuff very well. And things just go from bad to worse for the Petersons and their health.
The entire film is imbued with a sense of foreboding and everything being somehow “off”. Bob’s route to his office takes him through a “ghost town” of suburban houses, where leafless trees have fallen across many and again there is no grass, no signs of life. And when Bob questions this creepy area he has to pass through, one of his co-workers cryptically alludes to some sort of “chemical accident” and other workers at the company call the area the “Zeecor Love Canal”. The people at Zeecor are almost as weird as Bob and Wendi’s Wormwood Drive neighbors – the female executive, Evelyn (Meredith Morton), with skirts up to THERE who almost immediately begins a not-too-subtle play for Bob. The automaton receptionist Tina (DeAnna Joy Brooks) whose phone never ceases to ring. The mysteriously absent company president. It’s all very unsettling. And back at home, Wendi has to contend with a sicko maintenance man who tries to make a play for her and, as he leaves the house, urinates on the outer wall of the Peterson’s house. There is also an unbelievably misogynistic talk radio show, “Ask Professor Hudson”, that plays over most of the scenes with Adrian and helps explain where some of his sick ideas have come from.
Searcy and Huston are amazing in their roles as the victimizer and the victim. Searcy’s eyes and the condition of both his person and his filthy home are incredibly frightening and nauseating. Huston, tall and slender and seemingly too fragile to stand up to someone like Adrian Trumbull, plays Bob as a character to be reckoned with. Pell James as Wendi Peterson was truly a victim from the very beginning of the film. Practically afraid of her own shadow, wanting to move after every weird neighborhood occurrence, skittish and twitchy, I was surprised at her character’s outcome.
The cinematography by Bernd Heinl is dark and shadowy, even during daylight and there was a “dustiness” to the picture that went well with the lack of greenery on Wormwood Drive. The score by Jose J. Herring had an almost Danny Elfman-like quality to it early in the movie but became more sinister as events in the movie deteriorated. The special effects by Leonard McDonald were almost TOO realistic – like I said, this movie is NOT for the squeamish – but that’s better than having them look fake. And Whifler has managed to show, and I quote the distributors, “at least one disturbing image of every bodily fluid that humans can produce.”
With moments of truly black humor combined with the beyond ultra-conservative, twisted evangelical ideas about women and sex that Adrian has and the things that go on behind people’s locked doors, “Neighborhood Watch” will really make one wonder just a little more about who their neighbors really are. And a little more fearful…